Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Education for Adolescents
GA 302

Lecture Five

16 June 1921, Stuttgart

Today we shall take a look at the characteristic features of fourteen- and fifteen-year-old children and then, during the following days, concentrate more on the corresponding practical educational aspects. And we shall consider the impact the education of this age group has on the whole school.

We know from our anthroposophical studies that the astral body is born at this age—that it comes into its own at this time. Just as the physical body is especially active from birth to the seventh year, and the etheric body from the seventh to the fourteenth or fifteenth year, the astral body (strongly connected with the ego) is active from the fourteenth to the twentieth or twenty-first year, when the ego can be said to be born.

The fourteenth and fifteenth years are especially important in child development. You can see this importance in the looser connection between the astral body and the etheric and physical bodies. Every night, during sleep, we leave our physical and etheric bodies with our astral body and ego. On the one side, our physical and etheric bodies are then closely linked; on the other side, we have a close connection between astral body and ego. Because of this alternating separation and rejoining, there is a looser connection, on the one hand, between the astral and etheric bodies and, on the other hand, between the ego and the physical body.

The transition for the human being at age fourteen or fifteen (earlier for girls) is different from the transition that takes place at seven years. At the change of teeth, when the children are ready for the elementary school, we have a situation that arises, as it were, quite objectively in the physical/corporeal outer nature of the human being, in that part that separates every day during sleep—an objective happening. During the transition at sexual maturity, the adolescent now relates his or her subjective life—the ego and the astral body—to the objective sphere, to the etheric and physical bodies. In this transition, the inner (soul) life is affected quite differently than it is during the transition at the change of teeth. During the earlier transition, a physical/etheric connection takes place—which affects the subjective life. During the transition at puberty, the physical and etheric bodies remain as they are, and the astral body and ego remain as they are, but there is now, in a certain sense, a different interaction between the two pairs. The physical/corporeal and the etheric bodies, on the one hand, and the astral body and the ego, on the other hand, participate in this transition with equal strength: The inner subjective qualities of the human being participate directly in this process.

The nature of this process accounts for the dramatic changes in character after puberty. The changes can be seen outwardly in a matured capacity for love, which does not immediately show itself in its full sexual form but does show itself, in a general way, in the more intimate, inner relationships in which the children attract each other. Friendships are formed between girls and boys in which the sexual aspects do not initially play a role; rather, the friendships show the beginning of a more conscious development of the forces of love, of the forces needed for relating to and caring for another being at this new stage in development.

We can then see, beginning at puberty, in the outer behavior of both girls and boys, something that often baffles their parents and teachers, something that contradicts their previous character: the teenagers’ loutish behavior (especially in boys, differently in girls). This behavior is caused by the feelings of the astral body (which encloses the not yet fully developed ego) as it struggles to experience a right relation to the physical body and, through it, to the whole of the environment. Because of the need to discover a relation between the objective and the subjective, this inner struggle is unavoidable. It expresses itself in a denial, as it were, of what the adolescent has so far developed. We sometimes do not recognize the teenagers—they are so different from what they used to be.

I need not go into detailed descriptions; we are all familiar with teenage behavior. But we must understand its nature, because of its significance for education.

What we see initially is that the astral body has a stronger influence in girls than in boys. Throughout life the astral body of women plays a more important role than that of men. The whole of the female organism is organized toward the cosmos through the astral body. Much of what are really cosmic mysteries is unveiled and revealed through the female constitution. The female astral body is more differentiated, essentially more richly structured, than that of the male. Men’s astral bodies are less differentiated, less finely structured, coarser. Girls between the ages of thirteen or fourteen and twenty or twenty-one develop in such a way that their egos are strongly influenced by what goes on in their astral bodies. We can see how the ego of a girl is, one could say, gradually absorbed by the astral body, with the result that during her twentieth and twenty-first years there is a strong counter-pressure, a strong effort to come to grips with the ego.

The process is essentially different in boys. Their astral bodies do not absorb their egos so strongly. Their egos are more concealed, are not as effective. The ego of the boy between the ages of thirteen or fourteen and twenty or twenty-one remains without the strong influence of the astral body. Because of this, because the ego of the boy is not absorbed by the astral body and yet lacks independence, boys at this age are less forward than girls. Girls are freer at this age, more at ease in their outer confrontation with the world than are boys. We can notice in those boys especially endowed with these qualities a reserve, a withdrawal from life, the result of this special relation between astral body and ego.

Certainly, boys are looking for friendship, for some connection. But they also feel the need to hide their thoughts and feelings. This is characteristic of boys whose egos are connected to their astral bodies in this way. Teachers who can empathize with this situation that is present in boys, who can meet it in a subtle, delicate way, will do much to help them. It is this manner of the teacher rather than a direct, crude approach that has a beneficial effect. The boy has a certain love of withdrawal into himself; if this love of withdrawing into himself is not present at this age in a boy we really ought to be cautious. A good teacher will notice this, and he or she will then take care. The teacher will reflect: “There is something I have to look for, something that isn’t quite right, something that could cause problems and abnormalities in later life.”

It is different with girls. With girls, there are delicate differences, for which it is necessary to develop a certain skill in observation. The girl’s ego is more or less absorbed by the astrality. Because of this, the girl lives less strongly in her inner being. She takes her ego-permeated astral body into her etheric body. Her etheric body—that is, her behavior, her outer mobility—is strongly affected. We can observe in real girls—that is, in girls whose egos are absorbed by their astral bodies, who develop in a healthy, correct way—a courageous, firm demeanor during this time. They accentuate their personalities, are self-assured, do not withdraw into themselves. It is natural for them to confront the world freely and unashamedly.

If this demeanor is accompanied by even faint egotistical feelings, it can express itself in showing off, in a wish to display character and personality. But it is characteristic for girls during this time to wish to confront the world in this free uninhibited way and to show their worth. Taken to an extreme, this wish can lead to coquetry and vanity, not only to the display of inner (soul) life but also to self-adornment with jewelry. It is extraordinarily interesting to observe how what later leads to an addiction to makeup and a trivial love of finery can show itself as a delicate aesthetic sense during this time. All this is certainly the outward expression of the special relation of the ego-permeated astral body to the etheric body: The girls walk differently, their posture changes, they hold their heads more freely. Again, taken to an extreme, they become supercilious, and so on. We should indeed observe these things artistically.

If we bear in mind these differences between boys and girls we shall understand that the blessing of coeducation allows us to achieve much by a tactful treatment of both sexes in the same room. A conscientious teacher who is aware of his or her tasks in approaching such a coeducational situation will still differentiate between girls and boys. We must thus also differentiate with regard to what is so important at this age, what I just now characterized—namely, the way the subjective element has developed in its relation to the outer world. At this age, we are to relate the subjective element to our own body, to the etheric and physical bodies. The condition for doing so is one’s relation to the outer world as such.

This can be prepared during the whole of elementary education. It is the task of every teacher; it concerns every teacher. We must, in our lessons, see to it that the children experience the beautiful, artistic, and aesthetic conception of the world; and their ideas and mental pictures should be permeated by a religious /moral feeling. Such feelings, when they are cultivated throughout the elementary school years, will make all the difference during the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth years. For a child whose feelings for the beautiful, for the aesthetic conception of the world, have not been stimulated will during puberty easily become overly sensual, even perhaps erotic. There is no better way of counteracting the erotic feelings than through the healthy development of the aesthetic sense for the sublime and beautiful in nature. If you succeed in making the children feel deeply the beauty, the colors, in sunrise and sunset, in the flowers, experience the sublime splendor of a thunderstorm—if, as it were, you cultivate in them the aesthetic sense—you will do more for them than is done by the often absurdly practiced sex education given to children at an ever younger age. It is the feeling for the beautiful, an aesthetic confrontation with the world, that counteracts the erotic feeling. By experiencing the world as beautiful, the human being will also attain the right, healthy relation to his or her body, will not be tormented by it, as happens in eroticism.

It is most important during puberty that the children have developed certain moral, religious feelings. Such feelings also strengthen the astral body and ego. They become weak if the religious, moral feelings and impulses have been neglected. The children then turn indolent, as though physically paralyzed. This will show itself especially during the years we are now discussing. The lack of moral and ethical impulses also leads to irregularities in the sexual life.

We must consider the differences between girls and boys in our education leading up to this age. We must make the effort to develop the girls’ moral and ethical feelings in a way that they are directed toward the aesthetic life. We must take special care that the girls especially enjoy the moral, the religious, and the good in what they hear in the lessons. They should take pleasure in the knowledge that the world is permeated by the supersensible; they should be given pictures that are rich in imagination, that express the world as permeated by the divine, that show the beautiful aspects of the good and moral human being.

In regard to boys, it will be necessary to provide them with ideas and mental pictures that tend toward strength and affect the religious and ethical life. With girls, we should bring the religious and moral life to their very eyes, while with boys we should bring the religious and beautiful predominantly into the heart, the mind, stressing the feeling of strength that radiates from them. Naturally, we must not take these things to an extreme, should not think of making the girls into aesthetic kittens that regard everything merely aesthetically. Nor should the boys be made into mere louts, as would be the inevitable result of their egotisms being engendered through an unduly strong feeling of their strength—which we ought to awaken, but only by connecting it to the good, the beautiful, and the religious. We must prevent the girls from becoming superficial, from becoming unhealthy, sentimental connoisseurs of beauty during their teenage years. And we must prevent the boys from turning into hooligans. These dangers do exist. We must know the reality of these tendencies and must, during the whole of elementary education, see to it that the girls are directed to experience pleasure in the beautiful, to be impressed by the religious and aesthetic aspects of the lessons; and we must see to it that the boys are told: “If you do this, your muscles will grow taut, you will become a strong, efficient young man!” The sense of being permeated by the divine must really be kindled in boys in this way.

These now emerging special qualities are indeed founded—very delicately—in human nature. With regard to girls, the ego is absorbed in the astral body. This, of course, expresses the situation in a radical and extreme way, but doing so will help you to have a picture of it. There is something in this spiritual/soul process that is akin to physical blushing. The whole development during this time is really a blushing of spirit and soul. The ego’s invasion of the astral body is a kind of blushing.

The situation is different in boys. The boy’s ego is less mobile, does not absorb itself; we are dealing with a spirit and soul growing pale. This situation is easily noticed, is always present. The physical aspects must not deceive us here. When a girl is chlorotic (maid-pale), the condition fully corresponds to the blushing of spirit and soul. When a boy turns into a real lout who easily gets excited, this behavior does not contradict the fact that his soul and spirit are growing pale.

This is basically the expression of a new experience or feeling that takes hold of the whole being: the feeling of shame or embarrassment. It permeates the whole being and consists of the feeling: “I must have something in my individual, inner life that is mine, that I do not wish to share with anyone else; I must have secrets.” This is the nature of shame or embarrassment. And this feeling reaches every part of the spiritual life and the soul, as far as the most unconscious regions.

If, as teachers and educators, we can feel this development, if we can respect this in our own inner life, and if we then walk past a girl or boy with this delicate feeling in us, a feeling that respects this inwardly reposing feeling of shame—this will already have an effect. There is no need for words. When we move among a group of children with the feeling that there is something in them they wish to conceal, to preserve—like an unopened flower—then the unspoken effect of one person on another will be soon noticed. To live with just such a feeling will already have a tremendous educational effect.

It is a strange fact that in spite of the children’s outer manifestations and behavior, everything they do is nothing other than a modified feeling of shame or embarrassment. A girl who blushes in soul and spirit, has an air of confidence, shows herself to the world, confronts it unabashedly. It is peculiar to human nature that the outer manifestation contradicts the inner disposition during this time—this unabashed bearing, this bold confrontation with the world, this rebellious nature, this demand: “I will be treated fairly!” Anyone familiar with girls’ boarding schools can tell you this. They don’t accept unfair treatment; they insist on being treated fairly. They can now confront a teacher, will show her or him what’s what. “We shall not be made use of!” All this is basically nothing other than—let me say—the other side of what reposes quite unconsciously deep down in their soul life as a kind of feeling of shame.

And the boys: The loutish behavior at first, then their rudeness and churlishness during the later teenage years are really nothing other than their reluctance to show the world what they actually are. Wishing to make contact, they move clumsily, lounge about, behave differently from what they actually are. This we ought to consider—boys at this age, due to their special constitution, behave differently from what they really are. They copy other people. While the child during the first seven years imitates naturally, the teenager does so consciously. He imitates somebody in his walk, in his speech, in his rudeness, makes an effort to copy a gentleman. All this expresses his wish to make contact with the world outside—a special characteristic of teenagers. It is basically the embarrassment of revealing their own being, the withdrawal into themselves, the pretense of being different from what they really are.

The worst thing a teacher can do at this time is to confront teenage boys without humor. The proper humor consists in showing an interest in what they are up to, yet making it clear to them that you, the teacher, do not take it too seriously. You ought to develop these two ways of dealing with the situation. If you allow yourselves to be nettled by the boys’ behavior, if you get into a rage, you will lose their respect. If you behave like the teacher who reacted to the boorish behavior of the boys by starting to shout: “If you don’t shut up, I’ll throw the duster at you!”—the children will no longer respect you.

A different method applies to the girls. The teacher ought to react to their coquetry with a certain delicate grace and then, speaking metaphorically, turn away: gracefully to pay attention, as it were, to what they are doing and, at the same time not to let them notice that one is affected by it. We allow them to exhaust their rage, especially the saucy, impertinent ones. We then leave them to themselves. With the boys, we empathize more with their loutish, rude behavior, at the same time showing them that we don’t take it all too seriously, that we laugh a little, but not too much, so that they do not need to be cross.

What matters is that we develop a feeling for meeting the children’s needs at this age and that we realize that each child is different. The outer manifestations are those of a metamorphosed feeling of shame or embarrassment that permeates the whole being. We prepare—and we must do so—the children correctly for their life in their twenties by recognizing the fact that the subjective element connects with the astral body in an independent way. Just as the human body needs a solid bone system to prevent it from sagging, so does the astral body, with its enclosed ego, need ideals at this age if it is to develop in a healthy way. We must take this seriously. Ideals, strong concepts that are permeated with will, these we must impart into the astral body as a firm, solid support.

We can notice that boys especially feel a strong need at this age—we only have to discover this and understand it correctly—for: “Everybody must choose his own hero, whom he has to follow on his way to Mt. Olympus.” And it is especially important for us to present to the boys a fine ideal, a picturesque personality, be it a mythical character or a merely imaginative one, and to elaborate it, together with the boys, or to provide the elements for such elaboration. During a field trip we could have a conversation with the one or another of the boys, entering his particular needs. We could say to him: “How would you do this or that?” We point to the future, introduce the idea of purpose, of the aims in life. We, as it were, stiffen the astral body, make it firm—and this is important at this age.

The same applies to girls. If we make use of this knowledge, we shall also educate the girls correctly by recognizing the fact that they are more inclined to the cosmos and boys more inclined to the earth. Girls incline more toward the cosmic, and this means that their ideals are heroes and heroines; we should tell the girls about them, about their lives and deeds, about actual experiences. Boys need to hear about character, about complete human beings. This is essential; we must differentiate the needs of girls and boys.

It is important during this age to introduce to the students the world outside, so that they come to grips with and understand life as such. It is especially important for us to know this at the time when we are adding the tenth grade class to our school. Our lessons must be directed to the point at which the subjective may connect with the objective. And this is certainly not possible if we limit ourselves to the curricula currently practiced in the conventional high schools—because their curricula are the result of the influence of the intellectual world conception. You see, this merely formalistic way of educating our high school students, this one-sidedly cognitive, intellectual approach, this is something we should not continue with in our curriculum. And in not continuing this approach we shall not sin against progress in civilization.

Our curriculum should be such that it allows the children to become practical in life; it should connect them with the world. Our curriculum for the tenth grade class will, therefore, be based on the following: We must, in order to do justice to the social life, have girls and boys together in the room; but we must differentiate by giving them activities suited to their sex. We must not separate them. The boys should watch the girls during their activities and vice versa. There should be a social communication. We should also include the process that takes the thoughts from the head into the movements of the hand, even if this happens to be merely learned or theoretical. It must, as it were, be then a theory of the practical. It is, therefore, necessary to give the boys something that is appropriate for this age: lessons in mechanics—not only theory, as in physics, but practical mechanics, leading to the making of machines. Our curriculum for the tenth grade class must include the basic elements of practical mechanics.

In regard to the girls, we must provide them with something that allows them to have clear ideas of the skills involved in spinning and weaving. Girls must learn to understand the processes in spinning and weaving, must learn how spun and woven material is produced; they must learn to recognize a material that was mechanically produced, must be introduced to the mechanical processes and learn to relate to them. This belongs to this age group.

The boys, on the other hand, must, even if only in an elementary way that allows them to understand it, be taught the principles of surveying and mapping a pasture or forest. This is again essential for this age. Girls must learn the basic elements of hygiene and first aid, the different ways of bandaging.

Both sexes must participate in all these activities. Spinning, weaving, hygiene, and first aid are taught to the girls; the boys will do this later. And the girls must observe the boys handling the surveyance instruments. We can do this in the Waldorf School, can get the boys to draw a precise map of a certain area.

In short, we shall awaken in our students an understanding of what must be done in life if it is to go on. Without such an understanding, we continue to live in a foreign environment.

This, in fact, is the terrible characteristic of our time—that people are living in an environment that is foreign to them. You only have to walk into the street and take a good look at the people boarding a street car or bus. How many of them actually know how this street car is set in motion, know about the natural forces necessary for it? This has an effect on the whole human constitution—spirit, soul, and body. There is a great difference between having at least an elementary knowledge of the things we use in daily life and not having such knowledge. Traveling in a car, plane, or bus, using an electrical gadget without understanding at least the underlying principles, means blindness of soul and spirit. Just as a blind person is moving through life without experiencing the effects of light, so do people move blindly through the cultural life, because they cannot see, did not have the opportunity to learn to see and understand, the objects around them. This is a defect of spirit and soul. And the damages we see in our advanced civilizations are the result of people’s blindness in regard to their environment.

There is something else we have to consider: There is a great difference between learning something before and learning something after the age of nineteen or twenty. People generally learn a trade like surveying at nineteen or later. High school education, especially in grammar schools, does not include such practical subjects. But the long-term effect depends on it. What we learn after the nineteenth year impresses itself more outwardly; what we learn and experience at fifteen permeates our whole being, becomes as one with the human spirit, so that it is not merely a job we can manage, but a job we can identify with, in which our entire being participates. This applies also to the elementary aspects of mechanics, engineering, and the subjects I mentioned in regard to the education of girls.

We must insist on cultivating in our students such feelings and inner qualities that can then live and grow as their limbs are growing. Human development does not proceed by fixing two arms to the body—during the third seven-year period—two arms that then remain the way they are; they must continue to grow. Today’s endeavors are such that the students are instructed in a way that what they are learning cannot continue to live but remains unchanged throughout life. The things we learn must continue to live in us. This is only possible if they are learned at the right age. And we have to admit that somebody whose specific skills direct him or her to a certain occupation and who then bases his training on something he already knows—this building on something one already knows will have a tremendous significance for the whole of life.

I have always valued the lectures given by the anatomist Hyrtl. His subject was descriptive and topographical anatomy. Hyrtl belonged to the older generation. He demanded that his students read the relevant chapters in his excellent books prior to the lectures, and he emphasized the fact that he did not wish to lecture on a subject the students had not previously read about. He did this with so much charm that he managed to make his students see the value of this method, and even the lazier ones among them conformed to his wishes—a remarkable achievement, as most of you will appreciate.